The Empty Glass and Understanding Poetry


My husband and I attended a “Poetry Jam” in Pawcatuck, Connecticut at a lovely Cafe  (Valiant Brothers Provisions)  this week which was hosted by RI Poet Laureate Emeritus Lisa Starr and her former High School Creative Writing  Teacher, Lou Gabordi. It was a a wonderful night of excellent food, warm laughter and  a deliciously eclectic mix of words.

The next night my hubby, mom and I were sitting at the kitchen table chatting over spaghetti. The subject of poetry came up, and I have to say, it was a rather typical conversation. For I too have felt the way my  hubby  – a non- poetry reader but a fan of his poetry wife- described his experience trying to understand the meanings behind the words of the poets who read. We all laughed and I did my best as a fledgling poet to help them understand…but I am still learning, and that itself is the beauty of poetry- to accept that all is not clear at first. All is not laid out bare, always.

People are mystery and poetry likewise. I think the draw of poetry is that, like people, there are layers. Some people are more guarded, some straightforward. Maybe poetry is like people in that way?

How can we see beyond the surface? Poetry offers a clue. Poets offer opportunity. But each one, as unique as their offering of words.

I have fallen in love with poetry…and I am no academic superstar…but perhaps the beauty of poetry is it really doesn’t matter at all. All of us come to the table, if we desire, offer up our portion, dine, and  enjoy the beautiful diversity until we have all shared, have become full. Maybe the sharing of our words is the greatest gift we can give,  maybe it is the truest giving of ourselves.

I want to touch and feel the power of words delivered simply, poignantly. But it takes practice and humility- and courage. I want to pull them out of my soul and pour them out in a way that makes poetry practical, palpable, personal…not a faraway siren but so close it stops your heart for a second, causes you to listen harder, lean in closer, and love bolder. That’s what it does for me. It brings me closer to people. Closer to myself…closer to possibilities unseen.

Anyway, I digress greatly! A friend at the poetry gathering had brought up a story  about Robert Frost and his most famous poem, and the layered meanings that were being discussed in one of his college courses, until Mr. Frost showed up one day and squelched all of the meanings and shared exactly what he meant.  But isn’t that  the amazing thing? We come to the table- each of us- the sum total of all our experiences, thoughts, hopes and dreams, and we cannot ignore the boundaries of  our perceptions. Nor do we need to dismiss them for they have so much to show us.

In this way, I wonder if poetry may not be the finest teacher, after all.

Our family discussion at the kitchen table post poetry meet-up was about the impracticability and impossibility in understanding poetry. I mentioned reading a poem at my writers’ group and how each person thought it meant something different. But, even  in my own lack of understanding, I find poetry not lacking but absolutely practical and with innumerable opportunities for discovery and full of magnificent possibilities…for all people. So how can we know or truly understand what we are hearing or reading? Hmm…

Good question. Maybe getting to know a poem is like getting to know a person. I’m not sure. But, I’m gonna figure it out…or just let the mystery become my grandest adventure.

I shared  a spontaneous  poem I titled,  “Empty Glass” , on Instagram and I  ask you (for the sake of experiment)  to share in the comments below, what it says to YOU? I’ll not reveal  what sparked it…and I promise not to grade you. BUT…I only ask that you read it, share what you believe it is saying. I wrote it in 5 minutes so don’t overthink it. I didn’t. Or did I? Ha!

Empty Glass

This is how it starts…the glass is empty.

You ask if it’s half empty or half full.

You speak positivity. You pose.

You breathe lies. Real love offers water.

Fills the glass, takes the hand. Forgives.

But you, mirror reflection, regurgitate

and forget. ..offer nothing but dry words

and bold proclamations. All in the name

of holiness unseen. You leave us alone

to wither, thirsty. Our glass means nothing

to you. You lick your lips, satisfied.

Don’t Forget to Comment Below- I really would love to have your thoughts/input! Thanks!

Do you find poetry hard to understand? I am hoping to start up a series soon and also praying for a small group of writers to partner with locally to focus on poetry exclusively. Stay tuned!

You are Invited: If you are a local poetry writer, reader, fan, aspiring poet, closet writer- mark your calendar: July 20, August 17 (Third Thursday of the month!) and COME to Valiant Brothers Provisions for dinner (5:30-6:45) or dessert and coffee. Poetry Circle starts @ 7-9 PM (“Poets can share their poems in a safe, friendly, respectful circle. Non-writing poetry lovers are encouraged to bring one of their favorite poems to share”)  I am hoping to attend each one and would love to see any of my friends and fellow writers there!

Published by enthusiasticallydawn

Dawn Paoletta is the author of Journaling for Discovery and Delight. Her writing is included in several anthologies and her poems have been included in the Wickford Poetry and Art Exhibit and Books. Dawn is currently working on her next book. Inquiries at

3 thoughts on “The Empty Glass and Understanding Poetry

  1. I think poetry is a creative painting written ( painted) by words to hang in the air for all to view in their own way. But most importantly the view of the one who birthed it for themselves for inner creating, healing or what ever purpose it served 🙂

    This poem screams to me right now life with my teenager and how she makes me feel right now. Honestly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For me poetry is so often hard to understand.
    However, I do believe the empty glass is this world(controlled by the evil one) without God, an unquenchable thirst. For as we know the Lord gives life giving water and would fill our glass.

    Liked by 1 person

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